Plant of the Month Archives 2020

Eucomis bicolor - S Turner

September 2020

Eucomis bicolor

If you have not already found the amazing South African bed in Osborn’s Field (Area J) you really should head there to enjoy the interesting and colourful collection of flowering plants from the different habitats of that country. These were all grown from seed by Friends Trish and Peter Kohn.
A few of the 13 species of bulbous Eucomis are in flower, including the increasingly popular E. bicolor known as the pineapple lily. With its upright racemes of starry pale green flowers topped with a tuft of leafy bracts it is reminiscent of pineapple. These rise from basal rosettes of leaves on stems flecked dark red. The plants originate in the summer rainfall area of Southern Africa and were introduced to Britain in 1788.

Aesculus parviflora - K Keeton

August 2020

Aesculus parviflora

Originating from the woodlands of Georgia, Alabama and the south-eastern states of the USA, the Bottlebrush Buckeye, Aesculus parviflora, can easily be missed. It has been cleverly sited amongst the magnolias at the top of the Rose Garden (area M on the downloadable map). The feathery plumes of the white scented flowers are high in the shrub, standing out like candelabras, attracting bees and butterflies.
The Bottlebrush Buckeye is a rather rare, late flowering, deciduous, spreading shrub, which suckers. The common name bottlebrush, is a reference to the flower shape. It was first introduced to Britain by the Scottish botanist and plant hunter, John Fraser, and was distributed by the nurserymen of the day in the early part of the 19th century. It gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit. This specimen is thought to have been planted by the Curator Harry Hart, in the early 1960s.

Echium candicans - S. Turner

July 2020

Echium candicans

E. candicans from Madeira (common name Pride of Madeira), a subshrub in the borage family, is flowering dramatically in the Mediterranean Climate Garden (Area L) for the first time.
The 12in cylinders of intense violet-blue flowers stand atop rosettes of softly hairy grey-green leaves on woody stems. Full of nectar, they are a magnet for bees and butterflies. As the specific epithet "candicans", meaning shining white, suggests, there is also a white form. Contact with the foliage should be avoided as it can cause skin irritation.
This plant was a gift from the national collection holders, Echium World, of Thoresby Park, Notts. E. candicans has been given the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.

Beschorneria yuccoides - K. Keeton

June 2020

Beschorneria yuccoides

The Beschorneria yuccoides was planted in 2002 as part of the Gardens' Restoration. Originating from Mexico, one would hardly expect this plant to survive some very harsh winters, but it was perfectly sited against the wall in one of the sunniest, sheltered spots of the Garden, in Osborn's Field just up from new South African bed which includes some rare and unusual flowering plants.
The Beschorneria is an evergreen perennial, with strap-shaped grey-green fleshy leaves arranged in rosettes. In Spring it sends up an arching, very fleshy, pinkish flowering stem with pendent, apple-green flowers and bright pink bracts.The plant was first discovered in the early part of the 19th century, and named after a German amateur botanist called Friedrich Beschorner.

Doryanthes excelsa - S. Turner

May 2020

Doryanthes excelsa

Even before the closure (Covid-19) of the Pavilions, few visitors to the Australian section would have noticed the extraordinary sight of the gymea lily in bloom - because the large cluster of bright red tubular flowers grows atop a 20 ft stem! Doryanthes excelsa, one of only two species in the Doryanthaceae family, is a succulent perennial with a rosette of sword shaped leaves. The emergence of this flower spike was noticed a year ago, 16 years after planting, and its progression skywards followed with fascination.
The plant is endemic to coastal areas of New South Wales where it was named gymea by the indigenous people who used the roots and stem as food. Gymea, a suburb of Sydney, is named after the lily. Looking through the window to the right of the doors of the central dome - and looking up! - the giant lily can be viewed.

Melianthus_major - A. Hunter

April 2020

Melianthus major

The Garden is full of wonderful blooms at this time of year, but one unusual plant that stands out, particularly because it comes from the Mediterranean climate region of South Africa, is the Melianthus major. This can be seen in the Mediterranean climate garden (area L on downloadable map) and in the South African Bed in Osborn's Field (area J).
The Melianthus, also known as the honey flower, is an evergreen shrub, but is often grown as a herbaceous perennial in this country, because it is not reliably hardy. However, this past winter has been kind to this shrub, and the foliage has looked good throughout the season. It is a sprawling bush growing to a height of 3 m with beautiful, glaucous, pinnate leaves. The leaves when crushed smell of peanut butter. The flowers, usually seen much later in the year, are rather curious, brownish red spikes, the nectar being enjoyed by nectar-feeding birds (not seen in Sheffield!). The flowers are followed by papery seed pods.

Magnolia doltsopa - S. Turner

March 2020


Many botanical treasures may be found in the Glass Pavilions, including the spectacular cacti collection in the West Ridge and Furrow walkway. One of the most impressive cacti seen is a very large Echinopsis. The species is unknown, but once it flowers the experts may be able to identify this cactus. This very popular genus has some 75 to 100 species (depending on classification) and is native to South America. Many species are valued for their funnel-shaped, brilliantly coloured daytime or white nocturnal flowers, which are often short-lived.
Cacti are types of desert plants that have thick, leafless stems often covered in prickly spines or sharp spikes. They are able to thrive in dry climates because they store water in their stems. The word 'cactus' derives its name from the Ancient Greek, Kaktos, a name originally used by Theophrastus for a spiny plant whose identity was not certain.

Magnolia doltsopa - S. Turner

February 2020

Magnolia doltsopa

The heavenly scent of the beautiful flowers of this stunning plant will be noticed before you come upon it in the east ridge and furrow Pavilion, the Asian and Himalayan section. These multi-petalled, pure white flowers develop in the leaf axils along the stems over many weeks, from buds covered in copper coloured, velvety hairs. The dark green, glossy leaves develop from similar buds and contrast perfectly with the flowers. Truly a much admired and desirable plant, its slight tenderness explaining why it is not often seen. It was formerly included in a separate genus, Michelia, named after a 17th century botanist and polymath, but was introduced to the UK by George Forrest only in 1918.

Betula utilis var. jacquemontii - S. Turner

January 2020

Betula utilis var. jacquemontii

Jacquemont's birch has a presence year round on the lawn of the Rock and Water Garden (Area H), its gleaming white bark visible from all around. B. utilis, Himalayan birch, was found by Nathaniel Wallich, Director of the Botanic Gardens of Calcutta, in the early 19th century, and introduced by Hooker in 1849. Its name, meaning 'useful', refers to its many uses including for roofing and as paper from the bark which peels in strips. Ancient Buddhist manuscripts have been found on its bark.
Along the Himalayan mountain chain there are many variants of the birch with different coloured barks, from cream, rose and orange (B. utilis and var. utilis), dark purple (var. prattii) and pure white (var. jacquemontii). This latter has been known in cultivation since 1880. It was named in honour of the celebrated French scientist, Venceslas Jacquemont, who died in India aged 31.

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